By SALAH NASRAWI, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 25 minutes ago
MINA, Saudi Arabia - Thousands of Muslims surging to complete a stoning ritual before sunset stampeded Thursday after some pilgrims tripped over dropped luggage, causing a pileup that killed at least 345 people in the second tragedy to hit this year's hajj.
Saudi authorities have sought for years to ease the flow of increasingly mammoth crowds during the annual Islamic pilgrimage, but the deaths on the final day of the stoning of the devil ritual underlined the difficulty in managing one of the world's biggest religious events, which this year drew more than 2.5 million followers.
The stampede came a week after another hajj disaster � the Jan. 5 collapse of a building being used as a pilgrims' hotel that killed 76 people in Mecca.
In the stoning ritual, all the pilgrims must pass a series of three "pillars" called al-Jamarat, which represent the devil and which the faithful pelt with stones to purge themselves of sin.
The site in the desert of Mina outside the holy city of Mecca is a notorious bottleneck in the weeklong pilgrimage and has seen deadly incidents in seven of the past 17 years, including a stampede in 1990 that killed 1,426 people and one in 2004 that killed 244.